Antoinette Auf dem Weg 2004 travel blog

Took the winding train to UNSECO world heritage listed temple-town Nikko. All was covered in snow which didn't bode well for my recovery from a supposed case of bird flu.

Some of you expressed an interest in the travel writing competition I won on the Japanese Setsubun Matsuri, 'Bean-throwing Festival'. Here is the piece with some photos of me in Nikko where I got caught up in it all. When I read it now it sounds very stupid, but I guess it must be ok. Also you can check out the page itself (, where the story is published, and read other stories about Japanese festivals. NOTE ALL: this is a shameless advertisment for Japanese tourism; those who have'nt, must go.

setsubun matsuri

6th to 12th February 2005

Antoinette Schapper was surprised to find herself involved in Japan's Setsubun Matsuri - a lively bean-throwing festival that marks the end of winter and the beginning of Spring!

"I left hyper-paced Tokyo expecting a few days relaxation in the temple-town Nikko. When I arrived the place seemed deserted; I was the only guest in a tiny hostel run by a little old lady. I imagined the veil of snow that lay over all was what was keeping every one inside - I was wrong. When I entered the first temple all seemed quiet. Inside I found that the main hall was closed for a ceremony of which I could hear chanting and gongs. Eventually, a large group of Shinto priests flowed out and began a procession to the temple gate. I followed, thinking of how I might get a good photo of these men in funny hats. Out of nowhere a large platform decorated in red and white like a maypole had appeared before the gate and a mass of people flooded around it. The priests went up onto the platform and the crowd began surge anxiously. I was caught in the pack as soybeans were thrown on us from the stage. I was wondering what it was all about when suddenly the whole crowd began pushing violently and calling loudly. I was hit on the head by a lollypop which came flying from the stage. The five-foot gentleman next to me did restrain himself from using his umbrella in order to get to the lollies and tissues first. When the shower of trinkets and the manic grapping ended five minutes later, I emerged battered and bruised from beneath the crowd without my hat - it had been taken as a prize by someone! I saw Oba-sans scamper away with shopping-bags full. I had no idea what is was all about. I dragged myself back to my hostel imaging myself safe from the manic gangs of Oba- sans in search of sweets. I had just lay down when my hostess burst into my room armed with a lurid kami-mask and a packet of soybeans. I was ordered to put on the mask, given a handful of beans and told to throw then out the newly opened window with a cry of 'bad gods- out!'. Next I was to throw a handful on the floor of the room. I hesitated. 'You must', I was told, 'it is the Setsubun Matsuri- the bean-throwing festival'. I did so with the cry of 'good gods- stay!'. Then for luck I had to eat the number of my years in soybeans. We spent the next ten minutes on our hands and knees picking up the beans, but at least I knew what I had seen earlier- the pre-spring cleansing festival of the Shinto religion."

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